Literature Reviews

This guide provides information to understand the purpose of a Literature review, search for information, analysis; synthesis of the literature and writing the review.

The search process

There are seven basic steps in the search process:

  1. Identifying the key words and phrases that reflect the key concepts of your research topic.
  2. Formatting these key words and phrases using techniques such as phrase searching and truncation that make the most of them.
  3. Turning these key words and phrases into effective searches using a few easy to master techniques.
  4. Using the filters and limits in databases to optimise your searches.
  5. Reviewing/evaluating your search results.
  6. Making the most of your search results – by using the information in database records and article reference lists to find other resources.
  7. Search again – Searching is not a linear process. And it is not enough to do just one search. You will need separate searches for each aspect of your topic. You will also need to repeat your searches in multiple databases. As you continue to search and read the literature related to your topic, you will find that you need to modify your searches to include the other keywords you come across, or other aspects of the topic you need to investigate.

Extra processes for literature reviews (systematic)

As the name suggests, the searches for this type of literature review are systematic. This more scientific approach to searching requires the searches to be repeatable.


If you are doing a literature review (systematic), you will need to do some preliminary searching to identify

  • the key databases you will be using for your review
  • the most successful keywords and phrases for locating relevant literature for your review
  • relevant subject headings in each of your databases. Subject headings are used in conjunction with keywords to improve the efficacy of your search.

By the end of this process, you should have a search you can repeat in each of your databases.

Note: Different databases use different subject headings. If you've used a subject heading from one database that doesn't appear in the others, you'll need to enter it as a keyword in the other databases to ensure consistency in your search terms.


You'll need to keep a record of:

  • your keywords and subject headings for each of your concepts
  • the databases you searched in and the dates of the searches
  • the number of results from each search

Where to search

The literature you need to find will depend on your area of research. In general, you will be searching in databases and online.

Search the library databases for:

  • commercially published literature such as books, ebooks, articles in commercially published journals.
  • grey literature such as theses, reports, conference papers.
  • Open Access publications such as articles in open access journals.

Search online for:

  • government reports and statistics
  • company / organisation information
  • historical sources such as diaries, letters and photographs
  • Open Access publications such as articles in open access journals
  • social media sources

Help guides for searching